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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A real Hawaiian pa’ina

Every month Foodbuzz asks its featured publishers to submit proposals for an event for 24, 24, 24.  I have been wanting to throw an authentic luau or pa’ina since moving from Hawaii to Washington, so a little over 3 years now.  But it’s expensive to do!  So this month, I decided to submit it as a proposal and was absolutely thrilled when they chose me.  Then I realized that we would be getting back from vacation three days before the required party date, which left me only two days to get everything ready.  I began making tons of lists of recipes, ingredients, stores, music and more to prepare.  Thankfully, the party was a huge success, with a great mix of family and friends, some of whom are also from Hawaii and were excited to get some ono grindz (good food!).  We even got to wear our super cute matching touristy outfits that people on the mainland don’t know are touristy!  Here’s my original proposal to Foodbuzz.

Pa’ina is the ancient word for feast in Hawaiian.  I went to many family pa’inas when I lived in Hawaii and they are some of my favorite memories.  I would love to recreate the experience for friends and family here in Washington, while we actually have nice weather !  There will be pulehu (BBQ) wings, teriyaki chicken, chicken long rice, lomi lomi salmon, mac salad, chocolate haupia pie, and my absolute favorite AHI POKE!  We’ll have it at my husbands parent’s home on their beautiful lanai (porch).  I’ll have to find out who’s available but we’ll plan on immediate family and close friends.  I’ve been taught how to prepare a lot of these dishes by “aunties” and “uncles” who have had the recipes and instructions handed down in their family generation to generation.  It will be a great challenge to recreate authentic Hawaiian cuisine with ingredients available in the Northwest.  I will include lots of photos of the food and people, along with some recipes, a little history on the food origins because Hawaii is such a melting pot of cultures, and maybe some video.

Not everyone is in the picture, we ended up with 25 people total and had the perfect amount of food.  I made so many different dishes that to list all the recipes would make it take about a year for your browser to load, so I’ll include some of the more pricey recipes on this page (with a couple cheap ones!) and will link to follow up posts with recipes of dishes that are really affordable to make yourself when not part of a giant feast!  I totally recognize that a giant luau is outside of most of your budgets, it’s outside of mine too!  That’s why I’m so thankful to Foodbuzz and Visa for partnering in sponsoring our event.  I’m also going to give you step by step photo instructions on how to build an imu (underground oven) in the Pacific Northwest to roast some pig in the ancient Hawaiian way.  Unfortunately, we got a little overwhelmed (tired) and didn’t start the imu fire early enough, so we finished the pig in the oven for an hour, but it really is possible to build your own imu!  Now here’s the menu:

Pupus: Poi, Fruit (pineapple, bananas, mango, lychee, grapes, papaya),  Mango Bread,  Lomi Lomi Salmon,  Ahi Shoyu Poke,  Kimchi
Sides: Mac Salad, Rice, Chicken Long Rice, “Nalo” Greens w/Papaya Dressing
Main Dishes: Kalua Pork, Korean Ribs, Huli Huli Chicken, Chicken Katsu
Dessert: Chocolate Haupia Pie

Thursday was shopping day, I went to 5 different grocery stores and Asian stores to get the majority of what I needed.  Over 30 lbs of meat, tons of fruit, poi, banana leaves and serving tongs.  Then it was time to start marinating all the meat except the pork.  For huli huli chicken I used a combination of wings and thighs, bone in, and marinated them in a plastic bag.  Labeling everything is very important when you’re preparing for something this big!  Because Hawaii is such a melting pot of cultures, the food really reflects that.  Although ancients Hawaiians didn’t eat lomi lomi salmon, or korean short ribs, as more and more people from around the world came to Hawaii, the food evolved.  Now pa’inas feature food from Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino cultures as well as Hawaiian.

Chicken katsu is breaded and fried, so it couldn’t be made in advance, but I do marinate it before breading it so I went ahead and pounded the thighs thinner, then marinated them in a large baking dish.  The korean ribs took a little more prep work.  I had trouble finding the Korean chili paste I wanted (hard when the labels are in korean which I don’t read!) so I went with a bottled Korean BBQ sauce.  Typically, kalbi ribs are made with a special cut of ribs, because I was using regular ribs (which by the way I got for $9 for 30 ribs because they needed to be used in the next three days!) I needed to boil them before grilling time.  Oh man, the pot of boiling ribs gets pretty disgusting.  I got the water boiling, dropped in the ribs and boiled them for one hour.  Then I marinated them in a long tupperware and on party day they just needed to be grilled a few minutes on each side to cook the sauce and heat them through.

Day two (Friday) was for baking, preparing side dishes, and imu digging.  Eric was a huge help to me, he did so much.  He pretty much made the AMAZING mango bread with me just giving instructions.  Every pa’ina I’ve been to has had several different fruit breads, it’s a really affordable way to make something filling rather cheaply that tastes incredible.  This recipe is by Sam Choy, a very popular chef in Hawaii.  You can’t mess it up, it’s that amazing!  We made it in 3 small loaf pans rather than two regular sized one, seemed to make it stretch farther.  Next we made the crusts for my famous Dark Chocolate Haupia Pie.  It’s a macadamia nut and oat crust and everyone loves it, trust me, you NEED this crust!  We also washed the organic greens, which weren’t actually from Waimanalo where I used to get my favorite ‘Nalo greens, but were from our CSA so totally in keeping with living off the land as the ancient Hawaiians did.  I also made some sunomono (a Japanese vinegar salad) using zucchini.  You may remember it as my Zucchini Noodle Salad!  The kimchee had been made a week ago, so I just needed to taste it 🙂  Eric and his mom did all the digging, while I directed them very nicely.

Getting to make an imu was really exciting for me because at all the pa’inas I’ve been to in Hawaii, the imu was always men’s work.  I could watch, but never participated in the process.  By the way, the reason I prefer calling it a pa’ina rather than luau is that luau has come to denote something very touristy to locals.  All my friends with Hawaiian and Samoan heritage would invite me to a pa’ina which has come to mean a big party.  My favorite ones were thrown by the Hawaiian churches I sometimes attended, oh man their food was no ka ‘oi (the best)!  Now you really need a good 10 hours of time for your imu, that didn’t really work with our schedule and we didn’t realize that until it was too late.  You need to have your fire going about 2 hours to get the rocks hot enough, but ours only went for about 45 minutes.  Then you want about 8 hours of cooking time, and we only had 6.  But we just couldn’t handle staying up late enough or getting up early enough for the right timing, so we just went with it and hoped for the best.  Here’s how to build your own imu if you don’t live in Hawaii.

We only roasted a pork shoulder, about 6 pounds, so our hole was 1 foot deep and 2 feet wide by 2 feet long.  With a whole pig you’d want a wider and longer hole.  Don’t dig it too deep or you’ll hurt your back getting the pig out.  You want to line the hole with carefully selected stones.  In Hawaii they use large lava rocks.  We found some grilling lava rocks at Home Depot (where we went for burlap on Friday) but knew they’d be too small to hold heat long enough.  So we combined them with bricks which I’ve heard several people have used with great success.  You must choose rocks that are porous and don’t contain water or they could explode when they get too hot.  Danger!!!

Then build a chimney of wood for your fire and put newspaper shreds and kindling in the middle.  Stack some more rocks around the chimney so that when it collapses you will have rocks directly in the middle of the fire.  Then light the newspaper and stand back as the newspaper and kindling ignite.  Your chimney should catch fire and begin to collapse.  Continue adding wood for the next 2 hours to keep the fire going.  The rocks/bricks should be white hot.  Use a shovel or long stick to spread the coals out.   Some people scoop the wood coals out once the fire dies (because you don’t want them to scorch your pig), Eric used a leaf blower to burn them really hot and it was awesome watching the rocks glow.

While your fire is burning you want to soak some burlap bags, or a length of burlap like we got from Home Depot, in a bucket of water.  Then get your pig ready.

Place a length of banana leaf (which you can get frozen at an Asian grocer) in a foil pan a little bigger than your pork shoulder or butt.  If you’re doing a whole pig, skip the pan and wrap some chicken wire around the finally wrapped pig to make it easy to carry out of the pit.  Put the pork on top of the banana leaf and make several holes or slits in it with a knife.

Rub 3 TBS sea salt all over the pig getting it into the slits you cut as well as inside any folds of meat.  Make sure to thoroughly cover all sides in salt.

The best salt for Hawaiian cooking is Alaea Sea Salt, I love it’s color and flavor from the red clay in Hawaii.  I was so excited to discover that the Asian grocers in our area have a lot of Hawaii products like this salt, Aloha Shoyu, and poi.

Wrap the banana leaf all the way around the pig.

Wrap another leaf around the pig in the other directions so it’s totally covered.

When your rocks are ready, it’s time to set up your vegetation.   The banana leaves were a little pricey, and ti leaves would be even more expensive, so we used rhubarb leaves and corn husks, then banana leaves.  Once you have about 6 layers of vegetation, place your pig on top.  The vegetation will create a lot of steam to cook the pig.

Next you need to cover the pig and vegetation with the soaked burlap.  This creates more steam for cooking the pig.

Finally, put a tarp over the pit and bury it under dirt.  Make sure there is no steam escaping from any of the edges of the tarp.  Now let your pig cook for 8 hours while you work on other preparations, like pie!

I’ve explained before how to make chocolate haupia pie, this time I was making two.  So I made two pots of the haupia and poured melted chocolate in one of them.  It was easier than splitting the haupia like I normally do.  It was nice having the pie crust made ahead of time, and since we didn’t have room in the fridge with all the meat, I just let the pies cool on the counter.  Once the guests arrived and we took the meat out, my mom piped whipped cream on top and we could put them in the fridge to cool.  Haupia was traditionally made with pia or Polynesian arrowroot to thicken it, but nowadays cornstarch is used.

For a pa’ina, you must have pupus ready before people arrive.  These are laid out for people to munch on while the main dishes are being prepared.  By the way, pupus means appetizers, no matter what it may sound similar to.

The first pupu was my absolute favorite food called ahi poke, it’s made with raw yellowfin tuna, seaweed, sea salt, onions and a couple ingredients I really like that aren’t required; shoyu (a soy sauce) and inamona (ground kukui nuts).

We got a beautiful pound and a half of fresh tuna Saturday morning and I put Eric in charge of chopping it.  He was a little nervous since it’s so expensive, but once he started cutting it was such a beautiful piece of fish that he really enjoyed it.  By the way, it’s really simple to remove the skin, you can practically just peel it off the fish, using a sharp knife to get a couple spots where it’s sticking.

Another fish dish pupu is lomi lomi salmon, which is a salt cured salmon with chopped tomatoes and onions.  It’s really delicious and salty.  I actually thought the fish was a little too salty after I cured it for two days, if that happens, just soak it in water in the fridge until it’s at the desired taste.   Does lomi lomi sound familiar?  Yes, it’s just like the Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, because the way you make it is by massaging the ingredients together.

Once the guests have arrived, the women can come join you in the kitchen!  This was where I always saw the aunties and tutus (grandmas) hanging out at pa’inas making rice, chicken long rice, chicken katsu and other main dishes while the uncles were gathered around the grill cooking meats.  My mom worked on decorating pies while my sister Sharon and friend Alyia helped me make chicken long rice, rice and did most of the work frying the chicken katsu.

At 4:30 we unveiled the pig, sadly not quite cooked.  But everything else was ready so we dug in and put the pig in the oven for an hour to finish cooking.

Eric gave his cousin’s family a lesson on using chopsticks, since we didn’t put forks out until my autistic brother arrive and was very worried he would starve since he couldn’t eat with chopsticks.

There weren’t many moments that the table didn’t have at least one person standing at it grabbing food.  Everyone kept going back for more, I was glad not everyone made it that day or I think we would have run out of food!

Alyia and Josiah were friends with Eric in Washington before we knew each other, but ended up living in Hawaii for a little while when I was there.  I played tour guide for Eric when he came out to visit Josiah.

Little Joshua was so cute, he kept wanting to have his photo taken, play with a stuffed dog, or asked other people for food rather than take any of the food his parents tried to get him to eat.  His parents are true locals from Hawaii, his mom Bethany said the food is definitely what she misses the most about Hawaii.

My grandma was so adorable, she made her dress the night before!  I love my mom’s dress too, and our friend Dziko wore a cool festive Mexican shirt that totally worked.
(The next, and last, page is recipes, hooray!)

Horray, the kalua pig turned out great!  It wasn’t quite as fall apart as before but still incredibly delicious.  Everyone wanted to know how it was seasoned and was surprised it was just the sea salt.  Good sea salt!

Kalua Pig

serves 15


1 5-6 lb pork butt or shoulder
3 TBS sea salt
2 banana leaves


Cut slits into pork and rub thoroughly with sea salt.  Wrap in banana leaves.  Cook in an imu for 8 hours.  Remove carefully and tear apart with forks.

We had a cooler full of Hawaiian Sun, but I also put the guys in charge of making my Pa’ina Punch throughout the day.  It disappeared quickly every time.

Pa’ina Punch

fills large punch bowl


1 large can pineapple juice
1 half gallon orange juice
1 2 liter bottle ginger ale
1 can frozen guava juice


Mix ingredients well in a punchbowl.

Chicken long rice (center) is a very traditional Hawaiian dish.  It’s a great way to stretch a tiny bit of chicken with really affordable rice noodles.  You don’t want them swimming in broth, it’s really more to cook the noodles and give flavor.

Chicken Long Rice

serves 10-20 as side


1 skein of rice noodles
3 cans chicken stock
1/2-1 cup shredded dark chicken meat
1 TBS grated ginger
2 green onion stalks


Soak long rice in warm water for 45 minutes to an hour.  Bring stock to a boil and add chicken, noodles (with water squeezed out), and ginger.  Simmer about 10 minutes or until noodles are transparent.  Serve topped with chopped green onion.

Ahi poke is such a common dish in Hawaii that you can buy it prepackaged in the seafood section of grocery stores, or from the seafood counter even fresher.  Poke means “small piece” and these small pieces of raw fish with seasonings are like the Hawaiian version of the Japanese delicacy sashimi.  It is constantly evolving, in fact Sam Choy has a poke festival every year that people submit recipes to.  This was one of my auntie’s recipes.

Ahi Shoyu Poke

serves 15


1 1/2 lbs ahi tuna raw
1 TBS alaea sea salt
1 tsp inamona (kukui nut)
1/4 cup Aloha shoyu
1 cup limu seaweed
1/4 cup chopped onion (yellow or red)
2 stalks green onion chopped
1 TBS sesame oil


Chop ahi into bite size pieces.  Add remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix well and refrigerate 30 minutes for flavors to blend.  Keep chilled.

The history of lomi lomi salmon is uncertain.  It’s believed to have started when sailors would come to Hawaii (since we don’t have salmon in Hawaii).  They would need to salt the fish in order to preserve it, but Hawaiians probably added the tomato and maui sweet onion to make this salty savory pupu or side dish.

Lomi Lomi Salmon

makes about 4 cups


1 1/2 lb salmon fillet
1/4 cup sea salt
2 large tomatoes
1 small yellow onion (maui sweet onion preferred)
2 green onions


Coat the salmon in sea salt completely and place in a glass dish.  Refrigerate 1-2 days.  Rinse the salt off and taste the fish.  If it’s tood salty, soak in water for an hour and rinse again.  Dry fish and cut or tear into small pieces.  Dice tomatoes and onions and mix well, massaging with your fingers.

Closing thoughts…
All in all, it was an incredible success and everything I’d hoped for.  I’m so thankful to Foodbuzz and Visa for sponsoring this party and hope you’ve enjoyed sharing in it visually at least.  I’m also incredibly tired.  It was three days of prep and cleaning, and I’ve spent 9 hours editing photos, and writing the posts and recipes.  I have some video too but just didn’t have time to edit it today to get the post up by midnight.  But I am planning to get it done by Tuesday! (The video is up!) Now you know how to throw a pa’ina of your own and roast a pig in an imu.  Bring a little aloha to your friends and family.  A hui ho!

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17 thoughts on “Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A real Hawaiian pa’ina”

  1. Sounds wonderful – I’m sure everyone enjoyed your pa’ina! Great idea for the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24! I have been wanting to submit a proposal one of these months, but we are typically busy on the last Saturday of the month with a church service that my hubby and I participate in. One of these months I am going to do it, though!

  2. Congratulations on being part of Foodbuzz 24 sistah! How I wish I could have actually been there, as the mention of all the grindz really had me yearning for the sights, sounds and smells of home. That fact that you were able to obtain poi! Arghghghgh! I so want to do a luau here but poi is the one thing that I would never be able to put on the menu 🙁

    Awesome meal!

  3. Pulling this party together after returning from vacation just 3 days prior earns you extra points! Thanks for sharing your Hawaiian memories with us–great job!

  4. The Kalua pig roast looks like a lot of fun to do and the detailed description and photos makes it easier for me to attempt one of these sometime! Congratulations on the Foodbuzz 24 selection too!

  5. diana, there are so many things that i love about this post. i love the picture of you instructing the guys how to dig the hole, how you talk lovingly of the pig, how you wrap it in banana leaf. do you think that you could break this down into installments for us? it’s a lot to take in at once, and i think everyone would really love hearing about the details. awesome. really.

  6. Great idea for the 24 submission. Love some Hawaiian food! Funny you had this, and we just posted Hawaiian style sweet and sour meatballs today. Please some some chocolate haupia pie!

  7. Fantastic 24! Some of the same dishes as our Ultimate Lu’au back in May, but some dishes that I wish I had done. I am totally in awe that you dug your own ‘imu.


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